The last thing you want to hear while driving, aside from your kids bugging you with “Are we there yet?”, are squeaks coming from who knows where. Aside from putting up with the irritating sound, there’s a sense of paranoia that comes from not knowing what’s causing the noise. Squeaking occurs when two objects are rubbing against each other, and in a car, it could be pretty challenging to isolate the source.
If your car squeaks when driving, the most probable cause would be a component that is loose, worn out, or poorly lubricated. The culprit could be a fan belt, the brake pads, or one of the parts of your suspension system. Whatever the case may be, there is likely a fix for it.
This article will help you isolate where your car’s squeaks are coming from by exploring the most common causes. We will also discuss solutions to address the issues so that you can enjoy motoring once again.
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1. Your Belongings or Cargo Rubbing Is Against Something
Before you stress yourself out by speculating that there’s something seriously wrong with your vehicle, check to see if the squeaks stem from any loose items you have in the car. It may sound silly, but it could also be a huge relief to find out that the sound came from a bag of groceries rubbing against a wall.
Our car is like a second home, so it’s not unlikely to have loose items in the vehicle that rub against each other.
Try to backtrack and check if there’s anything you placed in your vehicle right before the squeaking occurred. If you recently put something in the trunk or the back seat, there’s a good chance that’s what’s causing the noise.
However, if you draw blanks, try to trigger the squeak by driving over uneven roads so you can determine its point of origin.
The key to determining the cause of squeaks is to zone in and listen very carefully. Turn your radio off and isolate any ambient noises as best as possible. Hearing the squeak is your best indication of where to look.
If you’re driving, it’s best to have someone help you look for the noise source. Otherwise, park safely and see if you can get the car to squeak by rocking it.
Once you have a general idea of where the squeak is coming from, check for any loose items that could be rubbing against something else. If the sound comes from near the dashboard, open the glove box to see if there’s anything there that could potentially squeak.
A visual inspection should help you narrow down the probable suspects. It may sound tedious, but try removing all the loose items from your car and then see if the noise persists by taking a drive. Make sure that tools like your jack and tire wrench are securely in place since that could also cause the squeak.
At this point, if you still hear the squeaking sound, then it should be safe to assume that something else is causing it.
2. One of the Interior Trim Pieces Is Loose
Many of your car’s interior trim pieces like door cards, consoles, and dashboard parts are held into place using clips. Some pieces also have bits of foam underneath them to keep them from rubbing against other objects.
Over time, the plastic clips can break or snap off, and the foam can get worn out, causing the trim pieces to become loose and squeak.
If you suspect one of your interior trim pieces to be the culprit, you can confirm that it is the source of the squeaking if it goes away after you press hard against it.
You can address this issue by replacing broken clips or suppressing the noise with additional foam. If the space underneath the trim piece is too tight, you can fill it with any soft material like cotton balls to eradicate the squeak.
3. The Belts Under the Hood Are Loose or Worn Out
Moving on to mechanical issues, a common cause of squeaks is loose or worn-out belts.
Modern cars have serpentine belts that drive various peripheral devices like the alternator, water pump, and air-conditioning compressor. Older cars may have separate belts for each component. In any case, these belts will squeak if they become loose or worn out.
The belts work as soon as you turn your engine on, even if the car is stationary. So, if you hear the squeaking coming from the engine compartment when the vehicle is idle, chances are it’s one of your belts, especially if revving the engine or accelerating affects the noise. However, the best way to tell if you have a loose belt is by visual inspection.
Aside from emitting a high-pitched noise, a loose belt will sag and won’t have the tension it usually has. The squeaking sound comes from the belt slipping on the metal pulley. Avoid driving with a worn belt, since it can cause severe damage to the engine and other components if it snaps.
A loose or worn-out belt usually means a trip to the auto repair shop. If the belt is loose but still in good condition, just tighten it by adjusting the pulley. On the other hand, you will need to replace a worn-out belt. If you need to replace it entirely, it’s best to speak to a mechanic to determine the costs and fixing procedures.
4. The Brake Pads Need Replacing
Another common reason for squeaking is worn-out brake pads. Brake pads inevitably suffer wear and tear since they undergo immense friction to get your car to stop. Once brake pads are worn out, their wear indicator will make contact with the rotor disc, causing a squeaking sound each time you apply the brakes.
Brake pads can also squeak if they are dirty. Some replacement brake pads are made of naturally squeaky materials, so it’s best to buy brake pads from a trusted brand.
Have a mechanic check the thickness of your brake pads. If they are still thick, they may just need a good cleaning, and getting all that dirt and debris out should solve the problem. However, in most cases, squeaky brake pads are an indication that you need to replace them.
5. The Suspension Lacks Lubrication
A vehicle’s suspension absorbs road imperfections to make the ride as comfortable as possible. Many parts of a car’s suspension rely on lubrication to work smoothly. Suspension components like the tie rod end, ball joints, and linkages will squeak if they are poorly lubricated.
A poorly lubricated suspension will squeak more when driving over uneven pavement or rough roads.
To solve a squeaky suspension, simply take a grease gun and apply a generous amount of spray-on lubricant. Some parts may be hard to access if you don’t have a lifter, so you can opt to have this done at an auto shop.
Getting a lube done by a professional is inexpensive and can do wonders for your vehicle. However, newer cars have sealed suspension joints that are meant to be lubed for life. So, if a newer car’s suspension leaks, you may have to replace the damaged part.
6. The Bushings Are Worn Out
A car’s suspension system also consists of bushings. Bushings are essentially cushions that are made of rubber or polyurethane, and they allow the parts of the suspension to move while absorbing impacts and minimizing friction.
When the rubber in the bushings inevitably gets worn out due to constant stress and friction, they will begin to squeak and may even cause a clunking sound. Aside from making unwanted noise, bad bushings may also cause the front of your car to tremble and make the steering wheel feel less precise than before.
Bad bushings need to be replaced by a mechanic. Some shops may offer to repack them to save you money, but it is always better to get new ones. Don’t attempt to fix the problem yourself, since you could make it a whole lot worse and then end up at the mechanic anyway.
7. The Hinges of Your Doors or Seats Lack Lubrication
Aside from the suspension, the other moving parts of your vehicle like the door hinges and seats can also squeak when they need to be lubricated.
The seats have a number of areas where the squeaking can originate, such as the springs, railings, and hinges. Additionally, check if the screws holding down the seats are loose, because that can be a problem area too. Split-folding seats can also squeak if they are not locked firmly in place.
You can easily address the squeaks coming from door hinges and car seats by applying grease or penetrating oil. Make sure to spray an adequate amount on all the door hinges, including the hatch or trunk. For the seats, use the lubricant on the springs, screws, hinges, and rails on both sides of the front seats.
The WD-40 with Smart Straw (Amazon) allows you to choose between a spray or stream function, making it easier to reach tight areas. WD-40 is not harmful to your car’s paint, but it can strip off wax.
You may also like: Best Lubricants for Car Door Hinges.
8. The Alternator Is Faulty
A faulty alternator, or one on its last leg, can also make noises like whining, grinding, and squeaking. The squeak is usually at a high-pitched frequency and should increase as you rev the engine.
An alternator’s job is to power all the vehicle’s electrical components and keep your battery charged. A belt spins the pulley on an alternator while the engine runs, allowing it to generate electricity. Through constant spinning, the bearings in the alternator can get worn out or break off, causing noise and the alternator to malfunction.
If your alternator is squeaking or you suspect that it’s broken, have it checked at an auto-electrical shop. The service technician should be able to assess if they can still repair the alternator or if it has to be replaced.
9. Your Tires Are Underinflated or Need To Be Replaced
It is crucial to keep your tires correctly inflated. Underinflated tires will cause more rubber contact with the road as you drive along. The excessive rubbing will lead to more road-noise, which may sound like squeaking at lower speeds.
You may also hear squeaking sounds if your tires have uneven tread, surface defects, or if they are worn out.
Check the health of your tires. Inflate your tires according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. If your tires are worn out or have surface defects, you have no option but to buy new ones.
10. Power Steering Is Low on Fluid
Older cars with a hydraulic power steering system rely on fluids for power and lubrication. Squeaking can occur when the power steering fluid is running low, particularly when making turns. If you see an adequate amount of power steering fluid but still experience squeaking, the fluid could be contaminated.
If your car is low on power steering fluid, simply top it up with more fluid. However, power steering fluids have different viscosity and use other detergents and additives, so use your manufacturer’s required power steering fluid.
If your steering system makes noise even when there’s an adequate amount of power steering fluid, you will have to bring your car to a shop to have the power steering system checked.
Dealing with a squeaking car while driving is frustrating, and figuring out where the noise is coming from can be a daunting task. A vehicle has many moving parts, so it’s understandably difficult to know where to start looking.
As annoying as the squeak is, it is the best indication of what part of your vehicle may need attention. It might even be a blessing in disguise if it helps you address a problem before it escalates to something more serious. If in doubt, contact a mechanic and get the issue resolved as soon as possible.
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